Social influences on the regularization of unpredictable linguistic variation

Olga FeherUniversity of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Simon KirbyUniversity of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Kenny SmithUniversity of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom

Abstract

Languages tend not to exhibit unpredictable variation, and learners receiving variable linguistic input tend to eliminate it, making the language more regular. We explore how this behavior is influenced by social cues, in particular when variability is distributed within and across teachers. We trained participants on an artificial language that contained lexical variability and manipulated how that variability was distributed across teachers: learners either received input from one or three variable teachers, or from three teachers who were individually consistent but exhibited variability collectively. We found that learners were more likely to produce variable output when their input came from (one or multiple) teachers who exhibited variable labeling, and they regularized more when learning from individually consistent teachers. This indicates that the propensity of language learners to eliminate linguistic variation is modulated by social cues, pointing to potential links with the broader literature on social learning in other domains.

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Social influences on the regularization of unpredictable linguistic variation (0.9 MB)



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